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Bolsonaro’s Black Box

On the eve of the first round of the 2018 elections on Sunday, the Bolsonaro juggernaut seems to be sweeping all before it


P oll after poll this week has shown support for the ex-army captain, Jair Bolsonaro, is growing, while the number backing Fernando Haddad, from the Workers’ Party (PT), after his initial spectacular surge in ratings, remains stationary. This is in spite of – or probably because of – Jair Bolsonaro’s absence from TV debates, as he recovers from an assassination attempt, and from TV party political propaganda, where his party, the PSL, is only allowed 8 seconds. Instead Bolsonaro’s followers have successfully exploited social media, with an aggressive campaign which includes a deluge of fake news about the PT, Haddad and voting procedures.
Some women detest Bolsonaro ….
…while others adore him

So the ultra right-wing candidate has never had to explain his policies, or answer questions on them.  He has denied some of the more outlandish declarations of his running mate, former general Hamilton Mourão, and his neoliberal economic adviser Paulo Guedes, who also avoids debates. He has chosen an army general as his planning adviser. General Oswaldo Ferreira, wants to restart the building of dams on the Tapajós river in the Amazon, and pave two cross-Amazon highways, the BR163 and the BR319, but is against the projected Ferrogrão railway and the expansion of monocultures in the Amazon, which he calls “stupidity”.

On the whole, though, Bolsonaro’s plans and policies remain a black box, only to be opened in the case of catastrophe, that is, his election.

Bolsonaro’s contradictions

He himself is full of contradictions. He presents himself as the anti-system candidate, but as a federal deputy for almost 30 years, he is a long-standing member of it. His priority is public security, but as a deputy he never proposed a single piece of legislation to increase or improve it. In fact, his parliamentary career is notable for the absence of any initiative on anything.
Bolsonaro as a warrior defending Honour and Country
Credit: Blog do Lício Maciel
Yet this inexpressive figure now has the declared support of three of the most powerful lobbies in congress – the so called bancadas BBB – do boi, da bala e da biblia (the bull, the bullet and the bible lobbies) who together add up to a sizeable majority.  Most of the evangelical churches, whose members now account for almost a third of the population, have declared their support for him – his middle name is Messias after all – overlooking his rhetoric of hate, because of his radical stance against the devil – the PT.   Gun manufacturers are happy For the farmers and mining companies, his promises to tear up environmental protection laws, stop demarcations and allow the exploration of indigenous lands, is music to their ears. For the gun lobby, well, shares in Taurus, Brazil’s leading gunmakers, have rocketed. What is more surprising is the tacit support coming from an officially neutral source, the judiciary.  Supreme Court judge Luiz Fux overrode his colleague Ricardo Lewandowski, who had authorised the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper to interview Lula in prison, and had the decision upheld by the new Supreme Court president, José Antonio Dias Toffoli. The same Toffoli decided to rewrite history during a speech to law students, calling what happened in 1964 a military movement, not a coup, in line with Bolsonaro’s version. He has also chosen a pro-Bolsonaro general as one of his advisers, an unprecedented step. In Curitiba, five days before the election, Judge Sergio Moro released parts of the plea bargain testimony of former PT government minister Antonio Palocci, accusing Lula of direct involvement in corruption, although the testimony had been rejected by federal prosecutors for not providing proof and was confidential, as part of an ongoing case.  It was a move clearly designed to harm the PT. The polarization of the election campaign between Bolsonaro and the PT has left little room for other parties. Presidential candidates Geraldo Alkmin of the PSDB, Henrique Meirelles of the MDB, Ciro Gomes of the PDT, and Marina Silva of Rede have seen their poll rates dwindling. As Alckmin’s campaign slowly sinks, his supporters are openly abandoning the PSDB ship and heading for Bolsonaro’s. Even João Doria, Alckmin’s protegé and candidate for governor of Sao Paulo, is preparing to play Brutus and plunge in the knife.  In an attempt to ingratiate himself with the former army captain, Doria declared in a radio interview that from 1 January, that is, at the beginning of his government, if he is elected, the police will be authorised to shoot to kill. He had to be reminded by a Police colonel that the police were there to protect citizens not kill them. The scene seems set for a second round between Fernando Haddad and Jair Bolsonaro. Yet the movement for a tactical vote in Ciro Gomes is growing. The argument is that polls show that, although he is doing badly now, in the second round, Ciro has a better chance of beating Bolsonaro than Haddad. He would be able to count on the votes of those who under no circumstance would vote for the PT, yet do not want Bolsonaro either. One business leader who is prepared to swim against the tide of pro-Bolsonaro sentiment is Ricardo Semler, majority owner of Semco Partners, who said: “Don’t let fear instruct our choice”. He went on: “Who will have the courage, at a lunch in the city of London, to defend the election of a simpleton captain, a running mate who’s a general, and an aide who is a power hungry but weak economist? … A man who defend the persecution of gays, the submission of women and the distribution of guns a la Duterte?” In fact, some analysts see Bolsonaro, who many are calling a fascist, as very similar to the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, with his murderous drug raids and exaltation of violence. He is irrational, and dogmatic. Only he is right. In the Bolsonaro view, the main enemy, for whom he reserves his most vicious attacks, is the petista, the PT supporter. This targeting of the PT as criminal, extreme, radical and responsible for all of Brazil’s present woes – corruption, recession, unemployment – has been echoed by much of the press, helping to create a toxic anti-PT atmosphere. The parallels with 1989, when Fernando Collor de Mello also painted Lula, his opponent in the presidential election that year, as the virtual devil, then went on to win and put into practice many of the radical measures he had accused the PT of plotting to implement – are all too obvious. Collor did not last long, resigning just minutes before he would have been impeached in 1992, but with enough time in office to do significant damage with his confiscation of bank accounts, abolition of state companies and sacking of thousands of civil servants. What is clear is that Bolsonaro’s language of intolerance is already having an effect in the streets. Gays have been attacked. A sign in homage of Marielle Franco, the murdered councillor in Rio, has been torn down. Brazil is more polarized than ever before, and the politics of hatred is boosted by social media. No wonder a recent survey found that Brazilians, traditionally optimistic and cheerful, are now predominately sad and angry.  

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Jan Rocha's Blog

Jan Rocha is a former correspondent for the BBC and the Guardian and lives in São Paulo, Brazil. She is the author of a number of LAB books, and contributes this regular column for LAB, known for its incisive analysis of current Brazilian politics.

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